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Five Minutes With The Ultra Distance Scholarship

Five Minutes With The Ultra Distance Scholarship

12 October, 2022

Kitty Dennis

By: Kitty Dennis

Photos by Taylor Doyle

What is the Ultra Distance Scholarship?

The ultra-distance world is typically very white and niche. The UDS has set out to change this. Whether it be through lack of representation, high costs attributed to ultra-cycling or lack of support systems, the ultra-cycling world throws up many barriers to riders of colour/BAME riders.

In 2021 after recognising a need for change the UDS teamed up with the Pan Celtic Race and Cloud 9 Cycles to support three riders to tackle the PCR. Vera was the first winner with Nathan and Tamzin coming in as runners up. The world was gripped, all eyes were on the Pan Celtic, rooting for the scholars as they attempted the 2000km race.

The momentum continued and after a new partnership with the wonderful Stayer Cycles, an independent wheel and frame builders in East London, the scholarship went from strength to strength. All three scholars were now each provided with a full setup, bike and race entry with a new challenge on the horizon - GBDURO. The Scholars tackled the 2500km off-road race from Land's End to John O'Groats.

As we come into year 3, it is undeniable that the UDS has changed the cycling world for the better. Without even having to analyse statistics we can see the makeup of ultra-races has changed, a more diverse field has evolved that has led to increasingly engaging races.

How will year 3 change the ultra-cycling world? Be part of it and apply to the UDS by the 16th October.

To learn even more about this essential scholarship we spoke to 4 of the directors at the Ultra Distance Scholarship:

Tamzin Dewar, 2021 recipient, PCR 2022 joint 2nd place finisher and cycling advocate based in Glasgow.

Vera Ngosi-Sambrook, PCR 2021 finisher, shredder and cycling advocate and tandem rider based in Wales.

UDS founder, Taylor Doyle who has completed the PCR twice (finishing in joint 2nd with Tamzin in 2022), Dales Divide and is an mover and shaker.

Alison Wood, coach of the UDS as well as competitor at All Points North and London Edinburgh London.

Tamzin Dewar: You were the recipient of one of the UDS spaces in 2021. Unfortunately an unrelated injury meant you were unable to race in 2021. However, this year, you came joint 2nd at the PCR. How has the UDS changed your cycling life?

As mentioned, my journey was longer than most due to injury, the time between the start of the scholarship and the final finish line was around a year and a half. During this time my relationship with cycling experienced a lot of ups and downs, particularly around the time I got injured. I was hit hard by feelings of frustration at months of training going to waste and felt helpless watching my hard-won fitness decline and knowing I would have to build it back from scratch. As with training for any big event it tends to seep into other aspects of your life, and I trapped myself into an unhealthy mentality where I was determined to finish, and it was almost all I thought for a whole year after my injury. This changed my relationship with cycling, and I resented it for a long period of time leading to me taking a few months off. This changed when the world started to emerge from Covid lockdowns and events and meet ups finally started to become a training option. At the start of this year, I felt my motivation return and I quickly became addicted to ultra-riding again. I found new people to ride with at every event I went to, and I had a whole community of Instagram friends to meet in real life. Without the UDS I don’t think I would have returned to cycling for a long time, but I have had a fantastic year, riding further, higher, and longer than I ever thought possible. The UDS gave me the confidence and motivation to step into the ultra-distance world and then brought me back despite my doubts. I now have a healthier relationship with my cycling life than I ever have before, and I can confidently say my UDS journey helped me find that.

The UDS has also given me a boost of inspiration to help others in their cycling journeys, just as it's helped me. As well as being a mentor and director for the UDS 2023, I am also starting a beginner’s cycle touring programme for women and non-binary people in Glasgow. I have met some amazing people through the UDS, who are now not only my friends, but also great sources of advice and collaboration - particularly on topics which require sensitivity such as diversity in cycling. I am grateful to the UDS, for it has not only changed my cycling life for the better, but it has given me new friends, new passions, and a healthier relationship with myself.

Vera Ngosi-Sambrook: You received the 2021 main UD award and completed the 2021 PCR. But also, you’ve inspired hundreds of ultra cyclists and received last year’s DotWatcher Rookie of the Year award. When you applied did you foresee the effect that sharing your story could have? And what tips would you give future recipients?

(Photo by Dan King)

When I received the first Ultra Distance Scholarship in 2021, I had no idea what it would open my world up to. I never anticipated that allowing myself to be vulnerable and sharing my raw experience of training for, and completing my first ultra would resonate with so many people. Nearly two years on, the scholarship continues to open doors for me in so many areas, and the community around the scholarship is blooming.

To future recipients of the scholarship, I would advise you to take full advantage of the network and community that scholarship provides, that to me is the enduring legacy of the scholarship. Don't be afraid to ask for advice and help from previous ultra distance scholars and meet up for rides. There's so much experience and passion to be shared amongst the community.

Taylor Doyle: You started the Ultra Distance Scholarship 2 years ago and it’s heading into its 3rd year. What would you say has been the biggest challenge so far?

(Photo by Harvey Waller)

The biggest challenge so far has been making sure that as the scholarship grows, and reaches even further than I ever could have imagined, that the message behind the scholarship stays loud and clear. The scholarship was created to 'increase diversity and representation within ultra distance cycling' and we do that through extensive support and providing opportunities. We are thrilled to offer a comprehensive package of support and equipment to successful applicants. However, it is important to remember that it is not a giveaway.

We encourage allies, applicants, and interested parties, including brands, to read up on why the scholarship exists and why it is needed. We also maintain these types of ongoing, ever-evolving conversations about diversity and inclusion in cycling, through online Q&A sessions, public panel discussions and talks, and blog posts and interviews online, from UDS alumni, mentors, coaches, and supporters.

Alison Wood: You have been with the UDS from the first days as a coach turned advisor and now one of the directors at the Ultra Distance Scholarship. You’ve coached many incredible athletes in the ultra world but the UDS specifically targets newer athletes. How do you tackle coaching athletes that are less familiar with structured training?

So, ultra distance events attract all types of people. Many have never participated in any type of sport before, so have never experienced or have a background in structured training. I try to introduce this to the athlete gently and with empathy. It's important to remember that the risk of injury increases when they're asking their bodies to do exercises they're not familiar with, and the same applies to the increase in volume of training. Being given multiple set rides and workouts for the first time, to fit into their existing commitments and lifestyle can be a bit of a shock. It's a fine balance of keeping them healthy and sane, but also ensuring the training is sufficient to elicit adaptation, i.e. get them fitter for their event.

I go through this journey with every client, but for me as a coach, this is the toughest part of coaching the scholarship winners, as they understandably feel the pressure of expectation to perform at a certain level and being in the spotlight. They may experience frustration that they're not progressing as quickly as they want to or think they should be. Helping them to manage their expectations over the weeks and months, and support their steep learning curve is also very much a part of my role. It's been fantastic to have the mentors helping the athletes with that as well this year.

All three winners this year fully committed to the training, and were an absolute joy to work with and get to know. They all had a tough year with various injuries and illnesses, plus general life events. They should all be incredibly proud of what they've achieved, I certainly am proud of them. The goal of the scholarship is to diversify the ultra cycling space, to show what is possible, expand people's horizons, not to put pressure on the winners to reach any finish line. I'm not sure any ultra event is about the finish line. For me it's about the challenge, the human experience, and about building resilience and confidence that we can take into all areas of our lives.

If you've been inspired by the UDS team make sure you head to their new Instagram and give them some love!